Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Saturday said the security measures taken by his country along the border with Gaza were not aimed at "harming" Palestinians, AFP reports.
"The measures taken by Egypt to secure its eastern borders are in full coordination with the Palestinian Authority and cannot have the aim of harming our Palestinian brothers in the Gaza Strip," Sisi was quoted as saying in a statement sent by his office.
"The measures seek to protect the Egyptian borders and maintain Egyptian and Palestinian national security," he added.
Al-Sisi reportedly made the comments during a meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas in New York, where they are attending the United Nations General Assembly.
Egypt began creating a wide buffer zone along the Gaza border in late 2014 in a bid to destroy the hundreds of smuggling tunnels Cairo says are used by Palestinian activists to deliver weapons to jihadists who are battling Egyptian forces in the Sinai peninsula.
The decision on the buffer zone was made following two deadly attacks in October in El-Arish, which killed dozens of soldiers and were claimed by Egypt’s deadliest terrorist group, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis.
Egyptian sources revealed that Hamas terrorists had provided the weapons for the lethal attacks in El-Arish through one of its smuggling tunnels, a charge which Hamas denies.
In recent weeks, Egypt has also been carrying out digging work in the area that Palestinians believe is intended to flood the last remaining tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai.
The work has been criticized by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that runs Gaza, with chief Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday accusing Egypt of further besieging the enclave.
Cairo also came under fire from Human Rights Watch this week, which said Egypt's military had "violated international law" through mass home demolitions in the buffer zone and accused the government of failing to provide adequately for about 3,200 families after their evictions.
The watchdog also said Egypt had not "provided proof that insurgents receive military support from Gaza".
Since the ouster of Egypt's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, jihadist groups have stepped up their attacks against Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai peninsula.
Most of the attacks in the Sinai have been claimed by the Sinai Province, which is affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS). Among the attacks claimed by the group was the assassination of a top Egyptian police general, who was gunned down as he left his home in a west Cairo neighborhood, and a bus bombing on a tour bus filled with South Korean tourists in the Sinai.